Is learning Sanskrit necessary to understand Bhagavad Gita? – Recently one student asked a question – whether one can learn Bhagavad-Gita, only by becoming a Sanskrit Scholar? I would like to make a statement on this question because this is a very pertinent question and it may resonate with your personal as well. Normally when I go and speak on Bhagavad-Gita in schools, colleges, and universities, people normally ask this question should we learn Sanskrit before we can study Bhagavad-Gita?
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Is Bhagavad-Gita just a text? – Introduction
Suppose you read physics, physics books can be written in various languages — English, Hindi, Tamil, Japanese, Deutsche (German language), Chinese, and so on…. But Physics as such is not a language in English, Chinese, or Japanese. It transcends these languages. By learning English you cannot understand Physics. We have an English division in every university. You go and hand over ‘Resnick Halliday Physics book’ to them and they will be embarrassed, what we have to do!! I am not a Physicist !!.
You have to go to a proper institute like IIT, IIC Bangalore, or MIT Harvard Oxford Cambridge and find a proper Physics professor to get the knowledge of physics.
Hence Physics is not a language that can be understood in English / Chinese / Japanese / Hindi / Tamil. Physics is a language something that is hidden within a physicist and a physicist can convey his physics language to another physicist.
Bhagavat-Gita is a language of devotional service
Similarly, Bhagavad-Gita although written originally in Sanskrit, it is not a sacred language because it talks about “divinity” and the language is “divine”. Particularly our founder Acharya, Srila A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada said “Bhagavat-Gita is a language of devotional service”.
So those teachers who are expert in the science of Krishna Consciousness they only can explain this science of devotional service.
Qualification for Understanding Bhagavad Gita
As it is said in Bhagavat Gita 4.3
sa evāyaṁ mayā te ’dya yogaḥ proktaḥ purātanaḥ bhakto ’si me sakhā cheti rahasyaṁ hyetad uttamam Translation: That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend and can therefore understand the transcendental mystery of this science.
Bhagawan Krishna who is the personality of Godhead is saying and instructing Arjuna that this science of the relationship between Krishna’s energy and Krishna, will be explained by Krishna to Arjuna, not because Arjuna is a great warrior but because Arjuna is a devotee of Krishna and a friend of Krishna too, that is the qualification.
I must have that attitude of devotional service, I want to serve Krishna, I want to surrender to Krishna only then I can teach you Bhagavat-Gita – the divine knowledge of divinity.
So there are two things –
- the speaker must be Krishna Conscious.
- the listener wants to become Krishna conscious.
Only then Bhagavad-Gita can be transmitted from teacher and the student.
3 Necessary Qualities to understand Bhagavad Gita
Another important verse is Bhagavad Gita 4.34
tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśhnena sevayā upadekṣhyanti te jñānaṁ jñāninas tattva-darśhinaḥ Translation: Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.
Anybody inquisitive to learn about the divine knowledge contained in Bhagavad-Gita must have the three qualities mentioned in the above 3 verses
Humility is not some artificial dress. Humility is an inner quality where I understand I am very tiny and I am literally drowning in the ocean of ignorance. I need knowledge, I need help. This is called humility and when you have that humility you go with proper respect you approach the person who is knowledgeable in Bhagavad-Gita with proper respect.
2. Quality of right Inquiries.
You must have the right question. One such right question– If I am divine, how am I covered by ignorance, can divinity be covered by ignorance? These are the questions and if you do not have the right question to ask, with what you will go by approach a spiritual master – a divine teacher. So you must have a right question and then when you ask you will get the right answer.
3. Rendering service to a Qualified Teacher.
When you go to a school or a college what service you do to your teacher? The teacher says you please complete lesson one, you answer question number one to five. He may give some additional assignments where you have to do it. This is called service to a teacher.
Service doesn’t mean you go and touch feet of a teacher and say….My dear master shower your mercy on my head, give me aashirvad…. This is not the way to serve the guru or placating the teacher using flowery language to placate the guru that is the worst service one can do.
Guru always wants you to be properly trained in the science of Bhagavad-Gita because once you are trained in the science of Bhagavad-Gita then you can go to another place and teach others properly the science of bhagavad-gita just like a physics teacher – he would like that you learn the physics properly in a right way such that you can go out and teach physics in a right way.
Similarly, a Bhagavad-Gita teacher also would like you to learn the Bhagavad-Gita in a right way properly because the knowledge of divinity you have learnt, you can appropriately disseminate this knowledge.
So, this is the spirit of acquiring the Bhagavad-Gita and never think that if you become a Sanskrit scholar you will learn Bhagavad-Gita. Bhagavad-Gita is not a science just written in Sanskrit. “Bhagavad-Gita is a science of divinity and it requires the language of devotional service.